By Raising Children Network, with NSW Kids and Families
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Smiling teenage girls checking a phone

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  • More than half of Australians think that their partner and family relationships are the most important thing for happiness. They also rate personal health, community and friends as important.
  • Some economists think that governments should use personal happiness as a measure of wealth and use public policy to improve national happiness levels.
Happy teenagers are teenagers with warm relationships. You can also boost teenage wellbeing and happiness by encouraging your child to try new things, have goals, value personal strengths and focus on the good things in life.

Happy teenagers

Happy teenagers are usually teenagers who are satisfied with their lives and relationships. But measuring and defining happiness is tricky, because it’s an individual thing.

Teenage wellbeing

Teenage wellbeing is built on physical, mental and emotional health. It’s also about having positive social relationships, taking part in different activities, finding meaning in life and feeling that you’re going well in areas that are important to you.

Raising happy teenagers: tips

  • Give your child praise when he behaves in ways you want to encourage, such as helping out, doing chores or getting homework done. This could be something like, ‘I really appreciate it when you put your dirty clothes in the laundry bin’ and ‘Thanks for helping out today – you’re getting more independent all the time’.
  • Give your child attention – for example, go to watch her playing sport, send a friendly text message or just give her a special smile.
  • Negotiate clear and fair rules. Teenagers particularly like to be involved in working out any rules. If you involve your child in making the rules, he’ll be more likely to stick to them. It’s also respectful of his growing maturity.
  • Encourage your child to try new things – for example, if your child is interested in playing a new sport, you could offer to take her along to the local club’s registration day.
  • Help your child keep a healthy balance between study, work and play. This might mean looking at how many nights your child is out doing things, how much down time he has, how much he can contribute to family life through chores, how many family meals you have together and so on.
  • Encourage good sleep habits and daily physical activity. Teenagers need about 9¼ hours of sleep each night and at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
  • Talk to your child about accepting who she is. Share times when you’ve faced challenges. No-one is perfect. Let your child know that you’re proud of the attempts she makes when she’s struggling or having a hard time. Acknowledging strengths in this way helps to build self-esteem, lets your child know you care and protects her from comparing herself to other people.
  • Share and make memories together. For example, take photos or videos on special family days or at school events and look over them with your child, or talk about and remember things you’ve enjoyed as a family.
  • Find time to talk about individual and family successes. For example, you could try going around the table at family meals and giving everyone a turn at sharing something that went well for them during the day.
  • Establish and maintain family rituals – for example, cooking pancakes on Saturday mornings, watching special movies together, going for milkshakes after school on Fridays and so on.
For older teenagers, happiness depends a lot on having freedom and not having too many restrictions. It’s about being respected, being able to develop independently of parents or carers, making their own friendships and social life, and being taken seriously as individuals rather than being seen as stereotyped teenagers.

Boosting teenage wellbeing: tips

Teenage wellbeing depends partly on how teenagers relate to the world around them, and partly on how teenagers feel on the inside.

Relating to the world around
Positive social relationships are vital for teenage wellbeing. Your child needs close and supportive family and friends. And good parent-child relationships tend to lead to good teenage friendships.

Doing good things for others helps you feel good, so it boosts teenage wellbeing. Your child could look for everyday ways to help family or friends – for example, giving someone his seat on the bus, or helping someone pick up papers they’ve dropped in the street. Or he could get involved in community activity. This type of ‘giving’ lights up the reward centre in the brain, which makes your child feel good.

When your child takes care of herself physically, mentally and emotionally, it’ll help teenage wellbeing too. For example, being active, having a break from technology, getting outside and getting enough sleep can help your child’s mood and improve her physical fitness.

Trying new things helps keep your child’s options open and can help your child find activities where he can be successful.

Feeling good on the inside
If your child has goals that fit with her values, are fun and attainable, and let her use her strengths, it can give her a sense of purpose and direction.

Valuing personal qualities and using strengths are powerful ways for your child to build teenage wellbeing. For example, if one of his strengths is creativity, you could encourage him to set aside some time each day, or each week, to work on a creative project.

When teenagers are resilient, they cope better with difficult situations. They ‘bounce back’ when things go wrong. Young people need resilience to get through life’s ups and downs, so building resilience is an important part of teenage wellbeing. Our article on teenage resilience has strategies to help.

Focusing on the good things, taking a positive approach to life’s challenges and identifying what she’s feeling good about or what went well in any particular day can help your child feel positive.

Being more aware and enjoying being in the moment of an experience can give your child a break from worrying thoughts. 

Accepting himself as he is can add to your child’s wellbeing. Part of this is not comparing himself with others and being kind to himself when things don’t work out the way he planned.

Feeling connected to something bigger can help to give your child’s life a sense of purpose. Meaning might come from spirituality, life philosophy, or a commitment to a cause such as the environment. People with meaning have less stress and get more out of what they do.

  • Last updated or reviewed 14-01-2014
  • Acknowledgements This article was developed in collaboration with the Youth Health and Wellbeing Team, NSW Kids and Families (formerly Centre for the Advancement of Adolescent Health).